June 4, 2012

Matt's story (Part 2)

(For part one, click here)

About that time, the dissatisfaction with almost every aspect of my life ate away at me, and I struggled to offset all of it by trying not to think. Yet it had to burst through in some fashion - and once again, physical pain erupted. Unlike last time though, the pain served as a catalyst for active change – the most significant I've made in my lifetime.

When someone would incessantly tell me I had bombed an interview due to looking like crap, or that women wouldn't be attracted to me unless I hit the gym, or that maybe I should cut down on the refined and cheap pasta I ate almost every other meal (I can't cook, and it was easy), or even a doctor telling me I might not be able to walk – walk! – easily within a few years if I kept packing on the weight, I'd get pissed, but ignore it as fast as possible. My family, father in particular, started pushing me to make changes in my life, particularly to lose some weight and get active. It pissed me off more than motivated me, and I didn't act on it – if people telling me my lifestyle sucked had ever worked as a motivator, I never would've started working in hotels, for example. I embraced my generally miserable self, was miserable to be around, and I'd get back to Facebook and miserably bitch about how I couldn't change anything even if I tried.

I never tried.

Ignoring other people was easy. Ignoring intense spinal pain which lasted for years? Not as easy.

My back hurt. My knees hurt. My feet hurt. My legs hurt. My body hurt. Standing hurt. Sitting hurt. Laying down hurt. Literally every single second of my day, the pain permeated everything. It came to dominate me. The pain got so bad almost a year previously that I had an x-ray of my spine performed. Nothing was wrong. Only by losing weight could I reduce the pain.

Thankfully, if there was ever one lifelong motivator that had proven more intense than the urge to keep my thoughts in the here and now, it was the avoidance of immediate discomfort and pain. I remember having a panic attack at age eight, pledging that I'd rather die than endure the booster shots that awaited at age 12. I could never hold my own in any sort of fight, the idea of getting nailed in the head by a baseball or knocked out by a basketball terrified me, and generally had the fortitude of a wimp. I'd try to imagine any way to get out of something that promised pain or discomfort. I started thinking about joining a gym but kept making excuses and didn't do anything. I'd made some recent changes around that New Years 2011 – a slightly better job, an urge to improve my quality of life and social circle. Suddenly, at that moment, it seemed like a chance for action had emerged, but it came slowly.

Until one day in January, 2011, I realized that unless I lost some weight through increased activity and improved diet, simply put, the rest of my life would be a living hell.

I will always vividly remember the exact moment where I kicked myself into action. I was at work, probably two in the morning, hunched over a desk that was probably three inches too low. My back killed. I realized that I had little control over my career at the moment, but I could attempt to control my body. I remembered I had lost 20 pounds in college in about two months through a combination of walking on an treadmill, eating slightly less and slightly better thanks to Jimmy Johns subs, and drinking water until I thought I might vomit – then drinking another cup a few minutes later.  I realized that working overnight in the hotel, I had a wide variety of food choices, and I didn't need to eat chicken sandwiches slathered in Caesar dressing and a side of fries nightly – I could eat healthier, or what I thought was healthier, with fruits, granola, or lighter sandwiches. I had plenty of cold water from the cafeteria. Plus, the hotel was dead and would be for months in the summer – I could have more time to think through food and drink choices. I realized I knew a few people who'd struggled and might be able to help me out.

Possibly the most important realization was that, unless I changed my life, I was doomed, absolutely doomed, to develop diabetes. On my maternal side of the family, my grandmother, great-aunt, and mother all had diabetes. Here I raced toward the same plight - and I hated needles! I would have to stab myself several times daily. Hell, I could have limbs amputated. Terrifying.

All things considered, I resolved to take action on the diet immediately. I immediately initiated what now I realize was probably a very unwise crash diet. I went from eating quite a lot of food at every meal – we're talking several sandwiches a day, fast food nearly every meal besides work – to halving my intake, if that. I didn't know really anything about different types of food or how they, or a diet change, would affect me, except that eating deep-fried food every meal was probably not smart. I just focused on eating less.  I felt like I was starving for the first few days, but I'd finally found an immediate physical challenge – eat less and deal with it – so I toughed it out. I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but I thought it had to be a better choice than eating too much, too often. Maybe most significantly, I gave up pop – altogether, cold turkey. I'd drank at least 20 ounces, usually more, of Mountain Dew or Coca Cola daily for probably ten years, despite hating it as a kid. I'd tried to end my addiction previously, but the headaches always overpowered me, and the drink ensnared me again. This time, I was broke through, and stopped drinking any sort of pop, except rarely or on special occasions - I refused to pay $5 for bottled water at Wrigley, for example. Since I hate coffee, facing working overnight without liquid caffeine presented  a daunting challenge, but I did it, resorting to sugar-free Red Bull in emergencies of four-hour-or-less sleep nights.

That week, I signed up at the nearest gym, a $20/month, bare-bones place where people did their routine and checked out. It being mid-winter in Chicago, I struggled to make myself actually go. The challenge was exacerbated as I would workout after working all night, and it was absolutely freezing and dark out at 7 a.m. Walking even from car to gym in snow wasn't pleasant. At the gym, I had even less of an idea what the hell I was doing than with the diet, screwing around on machines in random order, finding I was incredibly weak and could easily hurt myself if I didn’t get some help.

I regret that I never weighed-in correctly and officially at this point – the only starting weight reading I had was about 258 pounds, which I did with gym clothes and shoes on – so I consider my starting point about 255 pounds. But despite the challenges, I told a good number of close friends and family that I'd decided to get in better shape, and we'd see where it went.

Tomorrow: part three, he finds advice and support from family and friends...


Bailey @ Onederland or Bust! said...

looking forward to reading about where Matt is now!

Unknown said...

Thank you Matt for sharing your story - looking forward to part 3!

John Hulsey said...

I'm pulling for you, Matt. I can't wait to read the next installment!

Sarah said...

Thank you for your honesty, Matt. I can't wait to read part 3!

Frickin' Fabulous at 40 said...

Ok, no fair! I can't flip to the end and see the after, again! "The anticipation is killing me! I hope it'll last."

Bluezy said...

I appreciate your willingness to share story and pics, too. This is a novel thing to bring a friend in on the posts. Right on Mary G.! It fills us in on more of your tremendous journey and life!

Mimi in Vienna said...

Great story! I can't wait for part three!!

Matt said...

thanks again everyone :)